From left to right, top to bottom: Daniel Bonnell (20th), Nicholas-Poussin (1650’s), Luis Garcia (21st),Gustave Doré (1866), He Qui (2003), Giotto (1305), Giovanni Bellini (1500-02),Alessandro Magnasco (1740), Fra Angelico (1441)
Today’s readings invite us to respond to God’s call in baptism. Isaiah suggests that God chooses and gathers us to bring compassion and justice to a suffering world. In Acts, we witness Peter and John spreading the good news of Jesus Christ beyond their comfortable social and ethnic borders. In today’s gospel, Jesus is baptized, and we are invited to acknowledge him as God’s “Son, the Beloved.”
In the second half of the book of Isaiah, the prophet proclaims a message of consolation and encouragement. Today’s reading reminds the people that the same God who created and punished Israel has now redeemed Israel. The suffering that Israel experienced in captivity did not change God’s love and devotion to Israel. “Do not fear, for I am with you” “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
In the Epistle from Acts 8:14-17, the gospel penetrates a new field of ministry: Samaria. As Jesus promised before his ascension, the disciples’ testimony would fill Jerusalem and Judea, and would then penetrate Samaria on its way “to the ends of the earth” (1:8).
Philip, one of the seven ministers or “deacons” appointed by the Church in Jerusalem to serve in the distribution of the food, fled the persecution that arose upon Stephen’s martyrdom. When he arrived in Samaria, he “proclaimed the Messiah” (8:5), and the news was received with joy.
The Jerusalem church, which oversaw the spread of the gospel, sent Peter and John to confirm the creation of a new Christian community. The Holy Spirit authenticates this new mission through another outpouring similar to Pentecost.
This week is Jesus baptism, a time for baptism and renewal of baptism in the church. All 4 accounts cover the story and there are similarities – the heavens coming open and the holy spirit descening on him like a dove and God proclaiming being well pleased with Jesus (except for John).
Like Mark and Matthew, Luke records John’s denial of his own importance. It is the mightier one who is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Jesus is baptized along with “all the people” (v. 21), identifying himself with those who acknowledge their sins. Luke adds that “Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry.”
As Jesus was praying (in Luke often a prelude to major events), the Holy Spirit descends. With the title formerly applied to the nation, to the king and later to the Messiah, Jesus is now openly called the Son of God, dramatizing and confirming what was implicit in his conception (1:35). Thus Jesus is anointed for his mission.
In that spirit, people entered the waters of the river, and Jesus joined them. Not only is he baptized, he also hears the assurance of the Holy Spirit. A voice proclaims him God’s beloved, empowering him and sending him to the blind, the lame and the prisoners awaiting his good news.
Those fortunate enough to have this power of love energizing their lives know what it must mean to Jesus to be so blessed. Knowing that he brings pleasure to the Father, he can accomplish miracles. Human limitations are forgotten in his joyous response to such affirmation. And what is true for him can also be true for us.